Kickstopper: The Point and Click Cycle

by Arthur B

Point and click adventures have become hip again thanks to Kickstarter, but how is Jane Jensen's contribution to the revival?
So far in the Kickstopper series I've been mainly satisfied with the products delivered. Now, though, it's time to address the elephant in the room. The point and click adventure genre is what spearheaded Kickstarter as a platform for funding videogames and brought it into the big time, but despite my love for the genre I've also found it an enormous minefield, which some games I've really liked and other games I've found frustrating (sometimes within the same series). So let's see whether the wisdom of crowds is of much use in guiding developers to produce high-quality point-and-clicks, or whether the urging of hardcore adventure game fans yields games only fans could enjoy. First up, we have Jane Jensen's project to set up her own development studio, Pinkerton Road, and its first round of games.

Usual Notes On Methodology

As always, different backers on a Kickstarter will often have very different experiences and I make no guarantee that my experience with this Kickstarter is representative of everyone else's. In particular, I'm only able to review these things based on the tier I actually backed at and can't review rewards I didn't actually receive.

At the end of the review, I'll be giving a judgement based on my personal rating system for Kickstarters. Higher means that I wish I'd bid at a higher reward level, a sign that I loved more or less everything I got from the campaign and regret not getting more stuff. Lower means that whilst I did get stuff that I liked out of the campaign, I would have probably been satisfied with one of the lower reward levels. Just Right means I feel that I backed at just the right level to get everything I wanted, whilst Just Wrong means that I wish I'd never backed the project in the first place.

The Campaign

The Kickstarter videogame boom was kicked off by Double Fine Adventure, representing Tim Schafer's return to the point-and-click adventure genre. In the wake of it, a swathe of point-and-click auteurs of the past came out of the woodwork. Back in the genre's golden age in the late 1980s and 1990s, it inherited a lot of the literary aims (cruel people would say "pretensions") of the text adventure genre, including the tendency for lead designers to be promoted like master authors; Sierra, pioneers of the genre and constant contenders with LucasArts for first place in the eyes of critics and customers, were particularly fond of this approach and liked to push each of their series as being authored by a particular designer, though of course even in those early days commercial videogames were very much a team effort.

The auteur marketing of Sierra, though, did enough to cultivate fan loyalty to various Sierra designers to allow them to make comebacks in the Kickstarter age. More or less all of the game authors Sierra got behind back in the day have successfully put together Kickstarters in order to start making new games, often either getting the licence from Activision to do remakes or sequels to their old series or simply producing games with a similar tone and setting. (A notable exception is Sierra co-founder Roberta Williams, who seems to be happily retired.)

Gabriel Knight auteur Jane Jensen's post-Double Fine Kickstarter, however, wasn't so much about making a specific game so much as it was about test-driving a new business model for game development. The big idea is "Community Supported Gaming"; people would pledge to become CSG members for the space of a year, which would allow them to not only get the games the studio produced during that year, but also get in the loop when it came to beta access to the game and providing input to help the developers' decision-making process. Although Pinkerton Road did not as of the time of the Kickstarter have the rights to make Gabriel Knight games, they hoped to get it the rights in the future; for the time being, they'd just put out Lola and Lucy's Big Adventure, a sort of electronic picture book for children telling the story of two unemployed dogs who wonder whether they should get a job, and the two games they were proposing to make in their first year was Moebius, a point-and-click globetrotting mystery, and Mystery Game X, a game whose details could not be announced due to ongoing negotiations with the owners of the intellectual property in question.

The fundraising process could be best described as "muddled". At first, the studio itself was the focus of the campaign, and Moebius wasn't even announced. This was intentional: the idea was that two weeks into the Kickstarter campaign, a backer-only update would go out inviting the early adopters to vote on which of 3 game concepts they'd like to see Pinkerton Road adopt as their first project, and Moebius was the winner of that poll.

In principle, I really like that idea - yes, you have the risk that some backers would be put off the project by which game ends up chosen, but the timescale left ample time for anyone who was especially sore to pull their pledges, and letting the fans decide the first project seems like an excellent way to get across the idea that CSG membership is an important and meaningful thing which gives you a genuine say over the direction of the studio. On top of that, it means there's a tangible advantage to backing early, and having a decent groundswell of early backers is a great asset for a Kickstarter campaign - not only does it grab people's attention and act as good PR, but on top of that the more likely your project seems like it's going to fund, the more likely it is to get fence-sitters to back. (This isn't as irrational as it sounds - although there are dangers to Kickstarter projects overfunding and them overcommitting themselves to excessively ambitious stretch goals, at the same time a project which exceeds its goal by a healthy buffer feels like a safer bet than a Kickstarter which barely scrapes past the finish line, because if they're sensible the creators will ensure that a decent portion of that buffer is kept back as a bulwark against problems with the project.)

In practice, though, the execution of it seemed muddled and confusing, with the main Kickstarter page needing to be completely rewritten partway through the campaign to shift the emphasis to Moebius and not many people understanding what the focus of the Kickstarter was. In retrospect, I suspect that if they ever redo the "vote on the next game concept" thing again, it'll be the last poll they put out to the CSG this go-around so they can commence the next Kickstarter with a properly enunciated set of games for the year.

What Level I Backed At

"CSG MEMBER": ALL of our studio releases this CSG cycle on PC download, access to monthly Pinkerton Road studio updates, Beta test invite, pdf of Jane's design bibles for this cycle, digitally signed - and all previous tiers' reward goodies.
The previous tiers' rewards included in this one were as follows:

  • Digital download of our "best of the year" game music soundtrack, monthly CSG wallpaper showcasing our latest art, participation in our "A/B" test group (give input on our games)
  • Access to quarterly Pinkerton Road CSG studio updates and our CSG-only forum.
  • GK1 & 2 novels as e-books – These novels are out of print and used copies can be expensive. These versions will be digitally signed by Jane.

The Delivery Process

Actually executing the plan revealed the major flaw in the "annual funding cycles" idea - namely, Pinkerton Road set themselves tasks that they couldn't actually complete within the year in question. Though the estimated delivery date was March 2013, the full release of Moebius did not take place until April 2014, and work on Mystery Game X is still ongoing.

To be fair, the delays on Mystery Game X aren't really to do with factors under Pinkerton Road's control. The negotiations to get the rights to produce the game in question dragged on and on, with Jensen put in the awkward position of reassuring us month after month that they were right on the verge of getting agreement and she hoped to have news really quite soon. And whilst the complete Moebius production process took longer than expected, they did at least manage to get a playable beta of the first chapter of Moebius into the hands of CSG members by the promised March 2013 date, so had I been up for playing the beta I'd have been getting my Moebius on exactly when Jensen said I would be. (I don't actually play betas or read early drafts of Kickstarters where such things are offered, because I prefer to come to the final product fresh and let others struggle through any outstanding bugs to be ironed out.)

One factor which stopped the delays becoming too frustrating was that the team was very good at providing substantial monthly updates. These weren't just platitude-littered posts to the Kickstarter page, mind you - these were PDF reports containing a swathe of screenshots showcasing (in a mostly non-spoilery way) progress made in the previous month, as well as giving clear updates on the status of each project and the plan of action for the coming month. Consistently showing real, substantive progress on a month by month basis was reassuring enough to convince me that my money hadn't gone down a black hole, and the monthly schedule meant that updates were regular enough to provide that reassurance but spread out enough that they didn't feel like a bombardment of excess information.

Reviewing the Swag

Moebius: Empire Rising

The flagship product of the Kickstarter (due to Mystery Game X being, well, a mystery), Moebius primarily casts the player as Malachi Rector, a reclusive and emotionally distant genius with a particular talent for appraising people and objects; between his key eye for detail, his nigh-Holmesian ability to read people's personalities and motives, and his encyclopedic knowledge of history, he can discern in minutes what would otherwise take days of painstaking analysis to assess.

This capability is the basis of his living: as the boss of Rector Antiques, Malachi leaves the day-to-day management of his swanky New York store in the capable hands of his assistant Gretchen Stern, whilst he jets around the world assessing the veracity (or otherwise) of priceless antiquities - and getting in trouble as a result, partly because of his aloof and uncompromisingly direct manner and partly because fraudsters and art thieves don't appreciate being caught out. At the start of the game, Malachi is approached by FITA, a mysterious government agency who have a curious request: Bianca Cardolo, the young wife of one of Italy's most powerful politicians, has been murdered, and FITA wants Malachi to investigate. But they don't want him to examine the murder - no, what they're interested in is the victim: FITA want Malachi to investigate her life story and report whether her life story prior to the murder happens to fit that of any significant historical figures.

Unbeknownst to Malachi, FITA aren't just being whimsical here; they are, in fact, the custodians of the Moebius theory of history, which holds that certain patterns repeat themselves across the ages. Soon Malachi finds himself involved in the effort to ensure that Stephen Markham, an up-and-coming Senator, is able to fulfil his destiny as a recapitulation of Augustus Caesar and save the US from the coils of financial crisis and internal division and inaugurate centuries of peace and prosperity. (The point about Augustus subverting the constitutional structure of the Republic and turning it into an Empire appears to be being held back for a sequel.)

But Augustus is not the only pattern being repeated in the modern world; Malachi himself seems to be an incarnation of the Savant, an archetype that asserts itself in history particularly regularly - and the two previous known Savants were both closely involved in the development of this cyclical theory of history. Precedent says that the Savant is a deeply unreliable figure unless and until he befriends the Warrior, who as well as being the Savant's protector is able to open up the Savant emotionally. A chance encounter in Egypt with retired US Green Beret Captain David Walker might not just have consequences for the fate of the world - it might also unchain Malachi's heart.

Although in interviews Jensen and her team have referred to Malachi and David's relationship as a bromance, the presentation here goes somewhat further than that. Not only is it a viable reading to interpret Malachi and David as having this will-they-won't they sexual attraction, the game goes out of its way to point out that this is a possible interpretation. For instance, there's one point where Gretchen takes David out for a drink after he's introduced to her as Malachi's newly-hired bodyguard and she tries to give him this spiel about how Malachi never lets anyone get too close and he casts aside his lovers after sleeping with them the first time and he's a heart-breaking cad, and it is unambiguously clear that Gretchen thinks David and Malachi hooked up back in Egypt and she is trying to warn David about what to expect. When David makes it clear that the duo aren't romantically involved, Gretchen asks him if he's straight and he demurs, and later in the game idly mentions that his parents in the Midwest don't get on with him because they don't approve of his lifestyle.

Then, of course, you have the way that Malachi's terrifying psychological episodes can be controlled and soothed if Malachi is firmly held in David's big strong arms.

At the same time, whilst the game never says "these guys are not gay for each other", and regularly alludes to the possibility that they might actually be gay for each other, it's strangely reluctant to just say "these guys are in a gay relationship". Admittedly, this seems to be intended as the first game in the series and their plot arc is only in the opening stages, and in most respects the story seems constructed like a classic adventure yarn with a gay love interest - if you gender-flipped Malachi or David, the conclusion of the final chapter would definitely be read by most of the audience as Mal's emotional barriers finally falling and the start of a romance between the two. At the same time, it still feels a little like the narrative is hedging its bets in such a way that down the line it could still transpire that the duo are just super best friends and the cuddling is purely therapeutic. Of course, it took three games in the Gabriel Knight series for Gabriel and Grace to finally fuck, so it would be entirely consistent for Jensen to present a similar slow boil here, but as long as the ambiguity is maintained it's going to be impossible to tell whether what is going on here is representation or queerbaiting.

For the rest of the game, Jensen's writing is mostly on form. There's a particularly nice touch where early on Malachi is not just withdrawn from the world but withdrawn from the player too; he carries around these pills in his inventory and every so often takes them, but doesn't directly explain to the player what they are for if you examine them beyond noting that they're for headaches. It's only later in the game that you (controlling David for the segment in question) discover the deal: Malachi occasionally has these seizure-like incidents which he refers to as panic attacks, but which look an awful lot like traumatic telepathic contact with a vast active living intelligence system floating serenely in deep space. Saving this reveal for later is a good example of not letting the fact that a player controls a character dictate when information is revealed, and the fact that Malachi keeps even the player in the dark about this neatly underscores the point that he's an emotional hermit.

That isn't to say that the story here is perfect. Much of the plot involves Malachi trying to work out which potential candidate is the Livia to Markham's Augustus, which means that several chapters revolve around Malachi and David snooping around in different women's private lives to discern whether this chapter's target is a suitable partner for a big powerful man. Although the whole Augustus thing might in the long run turn out to be an awful mistake, here there's no questioning of whether this invasive shit isn't more than a little creepy either from Malachi and David or the narrative in general. Additionally, there's one chapter where as Malachi you have to suss out that a particular woman is a representative of the Medea archetype - and here that translates to her being a promiscuous seducer and poisoner and an utter misogynistic cartoon. It's one thing to base your story around the idea of regularly repeating cultural archetypes, but at the same time I don't think that absolves the developers from showing some taste in which archetypes they pick out and what interpretation they put on those archetypes, because repeating some old stories without comment or criticism can, as it does here, get grim, especially when if you unpack the plot here more or less every woman in the story is there to either support or confound Malachi or Senator Markham's destinies.

The Medea sequence is especially grim because it involves Malachi physically overpowering a woman and holding a knife to her throat in order to force her ot give him information. In isolation, this seems crazy-extreme, even though he does suspect her of being a spy. I think we are meant to understand that he was in physical peril from her due to the whole "poisoner" deal, and specifically from the fact that when she invites Malachi into her bedroom she's planning to poison him. (How she intends to get away with murder when there's two secret service agents standing right outside the room, we aren't told?) This casts Malachi's actions as self-defence. However, you only find out for certain that she is planning to kill Malachi if you slip up during the sequence in question and make the wrong choices, in which case she does kill you. Consequently, the way the plot unfolds if you don't make a screwup makes Malachi look nasty and heavy-handed, and you only get the partial justification for his actions - unless, that is, you screwed up and ended up getting a game over earlier, and as Ron Gilbert declared back in the golden age of point-and-click adventures, stories which hinge on the player failing and replaying to grasp what's going on suffer as stories.

Additionally, the jetsetting global expanse of the game displays at points a rather alarming dichotomy. You have all these US and European locations that are dripping with luxury and beauty and history, and you have Caira and Qatar, which are all poverty and terrorists and organised crime and trashy, beaten-up surroundings. Even though the plot revolves around global financial crisis, you wouldn't know that Italy and the US are on the rocks to look at them here, whereas every fearful assumption about the Middle East (in particular, the idea that the Middle East is an untidy, messy place where you can't trust any of the locals and everything is shitty) exists in full force. You never go down to some sleazy, scuzzy quarter of Venice or New York, and nor do you ever go to any luxurious palaces in the Middle East. If you really want to give the idea that the West is in a tenuous position and that the US is going to need some sort of radical reform if it's going to remain as global hegemon, this is kind of a strange way to go about it. (Of course, the point might be that actually all this austerity talk is vastly overhyped and Senator Markham is a nascent tyrant, but if it is they are presenting it with an extremely straight face at the moment.)

As far as the gameplay goes, for the most part it is strong with a few hiccups. The developers make the excellent choice of having a button you can push to highlight all the interactable stuff on the screen, so the old point-and-click syndrome of getting stuck because you didn't spot some tiny interactable thing in the corner of one of the screens. For the most part, the puzzles and the writing support each other nicely and the puzzles themselves more or less make sense in the context of the action. There's a few exceptions - a whole sequence involving giving an out of date iPod to a teenage girl so she'll dance in a way which distracts a sex addict VIP guest so Malachi can cut his VIP lanyard off and steal it and then repair it with superglue and use it to get into the VIP tent seems ludicrously roundabout and seems to exist solely to pad out and add gameplay to a chapter which doesn't quite have enough story to justify the gameplay in question, and there's a very frustrating part where David has to do some urgent climbing but the parameters of the climbing process are poorly communicated so it effectively becomes a very tough puzzle that's only a "puzzle" because of the lousy presentation. But for much of the game, the standard of puzzles is if anything more consistent than any of the Gabriel Knight games.

A nice gameplay enhancement is Malachi's smartphone, which in many ways is the logical successor to Grace's computer in Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned. In particular, Moebius is the first adventure game I've seen which takes advantage of the fact that the characters should, if they really live in the modern day, have ready access to Google in their pocket. Certain subjects that come up in-game can be researched online by searching on Malachi's smartphone; this doesn't always give useful results, but typically when it doesn't it's for reasons which make perfect sense. (For instance, Googling someone's name doesn't get decent information until you get it specific enough to filter out most of the junk results arising from other people with similar names.) Though no puzzles, so far as I can make out, require particularly intensive Googling, at the same time the game lets you get information you really ought to be able to get from public sources via Google, though this does make the few exceptions irritating. (There's an entire puzzle involving buying a copy of a newspaper where you'd think you could just bypass the necessity by going to Google News and making appropriate searches, for instance.)

The part where the gameplay falls apart is in the final chapter, and specifically in the overlong and ultimately extremely tedious maze sequence. Something to do with the way the maze is programmed breaks the "show all the labels of all the items on the screen" button, it takes far too long and sucks most of the tension and pacing out of the game, and it pads out a chapter which ultimately doesn't have very much plot. Although the climactic sequence in which Malachi uses his Savant powers to save David at the cost of almost wrecking his brain, and subsequently opens up emotionally and begins to accept their incipient romance/bromance, is a reasonable enough plot development, at the same time it pales as a climax to the game in comparison to the climax of the preceding chapter, in which Malachi engages in this incredibly tense confrontation with the villain and manipulates him into simultaneously revealing where David and the reborn L are being held whilst at the same time ordering his people to ensure the prisoners' health and safety at all costs. If anything, the final chapter feels like busywork, because the outcome of chapter 6 should really result in a checkmate which allows David and new-Livia to be rescued unscathed and I do wonder whether the action there could have been handled better as a brief epilogue rather than a full chapter.

In terms of graphical presentation, there's been some gripes about the character animation and admittedly it seemed glitchy at a very few points but otherwise I see nothing wrong with it, and by and large the game looks nice and the soundtrack is up to Robert Holmes' usual standards. Despite the issues I've picked out with the writing and the gameplay, I enjoyed the game all the way through and I actually like it better than any of the Gabriel Knight games, so I'm interested to see where the series goes after this. Hopefully it involves Malachi mentioning to FITA the point about how Augustus saved Rome by destroying every principle the Republic held sacred.

Mystery Game X

So it turns out that one of the most common guesses was the right one: Jensen had been in negotiations to kick off a series of Gabriel Knight remakes, with the hope of perhaps making a fourth game to round off the series if the remakes did well. The first game would, naturally, be a remake of the original Sins of the Fathers - and as such, I don't think I'll be bothering with it, for a number of reasons.

The big one is that Sins of the Fathers is, if you set aside graphics and sound, the Gabriel Knight which is least in need of a remake. I would be incredibly interested in a remake of The Beast Within or Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned which fixed all of the content which had to be cut or changed due to the budget and time constraints that hit both projects, because I think the originals of both games suffered from those production hiccups (it's why the cat-tape puzzle happened, for instance). Finally delivering Jensen's original vision for those games would be a great reason to do a remake, and it doesn't hurt that the FMV of The Beast Within and primitive 3D of Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned have dated horribly and could really benefit with being replaced. If they go in this "Director's Cut" direction for the second two games, I'd be really excited.

However, the Sins of the Fathers remake is a much less ambitious prospect. They've specifically said that all the original plot and gameplay is intact, so since I already have the original it feels a bit redundant in that respect, and whilst the graphical update is welcome, I find the original graphics haven't dated as badly as those of the sequels. Also, they're redoing all the voice work - the original sound recordings are lost, which means that the only way to get modern-quality voices on the remake is to completely redo them, and not only do Pinkerton Road not have the budget to get the original cast back together but most of them have aged (so even if Tim Curry and Mark Hamill did the job on the cheap they wouldn't sound like their original performances) and Virginia Capers (the original narrator) is dead. Having played the original, it'd just be weird to hear someone else's voice read Tim and Mark and Virginia's lines, and I didn't enjoy the gameplay and plot of the original enough to want to slog through the remake to experience them all over again.

Lola and Lucy's Big Adventure

It's a cutesy dog picture book, nuff said really. The art style is reminiscent of those overpriced airbrushed plates you see advertised in magazines, and on balance I find that the Internet offers me enough doggy pictures that I need more than an improving story for preschoolers to justify investing time in engaging with a dog picture delivery system. Backers who are also parents would probably have got more use out of this.


Downloading Moebius through Steam, I got the soundtrack automatically in both MP3 and lossless FLAC formats, along with suitable album art, which is a nice touch. The soundtrack isn't earthshaking but it's competent enough background music which usually hits the moods its' aiming for, as was the Gabriel Knight soundtrack. On the whole, it's a nice touch if you like Robert Holmes' work, but I don't think it's quite on the level where it'd sell anyone on the overall package.

Gabriel Knight e-Books

Interesting as these are, I think it's difficult-to-impossible to engage with them if you have already played the games in question because it became clear to me quite early on that they both boil down to a transcription of a playthrough. If you really like the dialogue in Sins of the Fathers or The Beast Within, it might be handy to have these to look up particular conversations, but otherwise I find the presentation of these stories worked better in the games themselves.


The rest of the stuff you get through the Kickstarter mostly consists of the off-cuts of the game design process (like the design bibles) or the process of participating in the CSG in the first place. Whilst I ducked into the backer-only forum a couple of times, I eventually stopped participating, mostly because I didn't find the forums in question to be particularly exciting and didn't want to participate that much in the CSG decision-making process (in part because I didn't want to get spoilered, and partly because I didn't want to be in the situation where I got really excited about one direction the studio could take only for the consensus to go in the opposite direction).

That said, for what little time I spent in them the CSG forums did at least seem to be somewhat calmer and more conducive to good conversation than I had expected, and checking in there again now I found my impression confirmed. Usually, I find backer-only forums for Kickstarter projects frustrating places to be in general. Whilst I'm sure most people backing any particular project are lovely, there's two particularly loud types of backer who I find end up dominating conversation on such forums.

On the one hand, you have the folks who get incredibly entitled. It's fair enough to feel a sense of part-ownership over a project and to feel like the creators ought to be paying attention to your input in return for your money - Kickstarter is, at the end of the day, a patronage system, and who pays the piper gets to call the tune; this goes double when "we listen to our backers and some specific decisions will be based directly on your input" is part of the sales pitch. That being the case, I don't see anything wrong with backers lobbying to a robust (but respectful) extent for their preferences. At the same time, over and over again I see Kickstarter backers taking this way too far, throwing deeply embarrassing tantrums and declaring that they want their money back if even a minor decision does not go their way, even when there's plenty of backers who are perfectly happy with the direction the creators have taken. It's like people get so caught up in their own sense of ownership in the project that they forget that there's dozens, hundreds, or (in this case) thousands of other backers whose opinions also need to be taken into account.

The flipside of the coin from the hardcore complainers are the hardcore apologists. These tend to be superfans of the creators in question and act on backer forums as infuriatingly uncritical cheerleaders for the project, though sometimes they arise as overreacts to the super-complainers, these guys try their best to douse any discussion in which criticisms of the project are aired, no matter how justified the criticism. This is more than conflict avoidance - if it were just that, they'd simply ignore threads where people gripe about the project - so much as a maddening insistence that everyone take on a sunny disposition as unfailingly smiley as theirs.

These people are, as I say, a tiny minority, but I find them so irritating that I steer clear of most backer discussion. To give the CSG their due, the discussions there really don't seem to go to either of these two extremes to anywhere like the extent that I've seen other backer forums do - I suspect due to a combination of a sensible moderation policy and simple good luck in having a decent crop of backers. Dipping in I only saw one really argumentative thread in which someone honestly claimed they felt they'd been cheated because the puzzles in Moebius were too easy (pining for the cat tape, I suppose), but even when that thread got comparatively heated it didn't get too crazy for a good while, and a moderator stepped in and locked it once the personal attacks got excessive. On balance, if I'd been more interested in backer-only discussion, I'd have probably persisted with this forum more than others I've seen.

Higher, Lower, Just Right or Just Wrong?

I don't think this time my involvement was Just Wrong, because at the end of the day I got a game I enjoyed out of it, but equally I don't think it was Just Right (and certainly wouldn't have wanted to go Higher) because I'm only interested in one of the games from this cycle. On balance, I think my original backing level should have been Lower.

Would Back Again?

Probably, but what level I'd back at is the big question. If a second Moebius game is on the cards I'd jump at the chance to get that, especially if there's a reasonable saving compared to the launch price. If there's another Gabriel Knight remake on the cards, whether I go for that really depends on whether there's going to be substantial changes to the gameplay of the originals - as I mentioned, both the second and third games suffered from cuts and I think neglecting the opportunity to correct that would be an enormous wasted opportunity. If there's a new Gabriel Knight, I'd probably go for it, because Moebius: Empire Rising has convinced me that on the whole Jensen's design skills haven't rusted any, and if anything have improved over time.

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Comments (go to latest) at 12:09 on 2014-05-19
This thing got some pretty savage reviews in the "mainstream" gaming press when it came out, so I was kind of expecting you to trash it when I saw this article. Your summary of the plot actually makes it sound a lot more compelling; I think some of the reviews may have been intentionally mis-representing it to sound kind of stupid.

Not directly related to the topic at hand, but have you played Kentucky Route Zero?
Arthur B at 12:32 on 2014-05-19
Well, point me at any reviews that stand out and I'll see if the complaints seem reasonable.

I have seen some griping about the character animation but I honestly don't see anything wrong with it beyond the occasional glitch.

Never played Kentucky Route Zero, hadn't even heard of it until your comment in fact. (Or if I had heard of it, I probably misfiled it as a driving game.)
Arthur B at 17:51 on 2014-05-26
Was provided with this comment from Kia:
"RPS had a fairly damning review of the game:

Having played the demo on Steam (before reading either review) I do find myself more in agreement with RPS than with you - in particular I found the initial interaction between David and Malachi (when Malachi's car has broken down on a road in the desert) equal parts uncomfortable and bewilderingly implausible, the minigame where you pick "observational data points" for people mostly random guesswork, the character movement glacial, the animations occasionally buggy, and not being able to interact with or pick up objects until you've reached the right point in the puzzle they're used for (sometimes involving backtracking one or more screens with your buggy glacial movement) very annoying. What really wound me up and shattered my immersion, though, was the puzzle in the Egyptian bar where there's a draft strong enough to blow a thrown dart about 6" off course but not strong enough for either you or your opponent to /actually notice it/!"
Arthur B at 18:03 on 2014-05-26
My thoughts on your thoughts, Kia:

- Yeah, I'm not going to defend the dart puzzle, it kind of stands out as one of a handful that seem to exist for no purpose other than to delay the story as opposed to advancing it, if you see what I mean.

- I had no problem with Malachi's initially twitchy response to David, it's well-established by that point that Malachi is a "trust no one" sort of guy and I think if you accept that his Holmesian analysis skills allows him to suss David as a Special Forces type it might prompt a paranoid interaction considering that he's just told a creepily obscure intelligence agency to fuck off at that point in the story. Also, artsy but ultimately confusing way that that cut scene and similar ones try to depict Mal's thought processes just doesn't quite work. (I can buy Mal thinking "this guy might rape me", but I can't buy him whittling the probability down to "Rape: 28%".)

- I don't mind Mal being an unlikable person at the start of the game - the same's true of Gabriel Knight. Though I agree with RPS having it all stem from a childhood incident where a lion ate his mum is silly.

- I didn't find the character animation that slow, but admittedly I did make ample use of the feature where if you double click to send a character offscreen the game fades to black straight away rather than making you wait whilst they walk to the exit. If I hadn't discovered that I might feel differently.

- I think not being able to pick up objects until you realise you need them was helpful for my immersion. What hurt my immersion was that Mal said "I don't see a reason to use that right now" or something similar for each of them, so they were specifically flagged as useful things you should come back to later. On the one hand, this feels friendly. On the other hand, it puts you right back in the space of looking for a puzzle which you've already seen the solution for, rather than encountering a puzzle and then trying to think what the solution might be - in other words, precisely the sort of "backwards puzzles" that Ron Gilbert dislikes.
Arthur B at 18:17 on 2014-09-09
A little update: Pinkerton Road just put out their final edition of their monthly update for backers of the original Kickstarter, since the GK1 remake is releasing soon.

The main point of interest coming out of the process is that Jane and Richard have come to the conclusion that their core strengths are as creatives, rather than running the business side of things. They do not rule out doing another Kickstarter, but I suspect a lot will depend on whether they can get someone in to handle the business side of things. They are quite encouraged by the recent resurrection of the Sierra brand in Activision as a home for independently produced games, and I suspect they might investigate the possibility of getting funding from that avenue to get subsequent projects done.
Craverguy at 16:10 on 2015-10-06
I find it somewhat bizarre that Malachi is pitched as being this walking repository of historical information, and yet there is no discussion whatsoever that Augustus' major legacy is as the man who put the final bullet in the head of the Republic and ushered in the age of permanent tyranny, and maybe that isn't something we should find desirable to repeat.

I mean, that is literally the first thing you learn about Augustus in history class (or from watching Rome, whichever). And these people are risking their lives to ensure his rise is recreated without ever contemplating what happened next?
Arthur B at 16:59 on 2015-10-06
To be fair, Malachi is a raging snob whose clientele consists of the aristocratic elite, so he might be entirely down for all that. Maybe there's a subplot in the next game where David finds Malachi's lovingly-thumbed stash of Julius Evola books and they have a huge fight about it.
Arthur B at 15:21 on 2016-04-21
I got curious about what Pinkerton Road are presently up to, since things seem to be curiously quiet from that quarter these days. I found this interview with Jane, in which she says that Moebius wasn't enough of a success to make a sequel likely and talks about her reservations about going back to Kickstarter.

In particular, she highlights a worrying point: the fact that some game developers seem to have become hesitant to present goals which reflect the true cost of game development, lest they fail to reach their target and not get that sweet Kickstarter money. (Which, of course, then has them set baseline goals which aren't realistic, leading to failed projects. Ooops.)

The Pinkerton Road forums seem pretty dead at the moment, but what few indications I have have been able to dig up suggest that a) the studio is essentially dormant with no announced plans to work on any new games and b) Jane herself has shifted gears to concentrate on her writing career. (Specifically, she seems to have become quite active writing m/m romance under the pen name Eli Easton, and under her own name has started a series of mystery novels about a former NYPD detective who moves back to the rural Pennsylvania region she grew up in and ends up solving crimes in the Amish community.)
Arthur B at 14:41 on 2016-05-16
Hm, they're not entirely dead: a Linux port of Moebius just came out.
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